A Korean Expression. Used to describe frustration, annoyances, tiredness..etc. Comparable to “oh my” of english. It is a slang but not a bad word. Can be heard from all ages but generally associated with old age
It’s used ad nauseum by old people here. One movie I saw a dialogue with 3 old people, and they must have said it 20 times in the course of a couple minutes. I’ve heard puns around the word, but of course I can’t remember them due to my early onset Altzheimers.
Today is my day to use aigo. I’ll spare you the gorey details, but let’s just say that I didn’t cry because I already cried Friday and instead just chose to be a bitch instead.
I know it’s just culture shock (still) but it makes you question everything and I just find myself asking how it is even humanly possible to be so damned uncomfortable in the place where you live after a year and a half? I mean, things just don’t make sense.
Like the time I was trying to buy a dress to wear to Jane’s wedding and nobody would let me try on a damn dress. Excuse me, but if I’m going to spend 40 to 60 bucks on a dress, then I want to try it on, right? And if the woman insists it’s free size and the front is just a sling, then that’s even MORE reason to want to try it on, right? And you look over at the wall and there are dressing rooms and you point to them and ask, well WAE? Wae do you have try on rooms? Sorry. NO. Finally I made an ultimatum. Well, if you want me to buy it then I must try it on. To which the saleslady said, “bye-bye!” in the nastiest, most smart-alec tone imaginable while waving me off…
Turns out a long-time Seoul resident adoptee tells me it’s because women’s make-up ruins all the clothes, so you have to learn to tell them you don’t wear make-up. Of course. The adoptee who obviously doesn’t wear makeup should know that and stop making a scene. There’s logic, but no one can explain it to you and these things aren’t in any travel guides and it isn’t taught with survival Korean and I’m just supposed to know these things. Because I’m Korean.
Anyway, a similar thing happened today. About four times. And I called the translation service and the volunteer wasn’t patient and had horrible listening skills and I had to fire him. I kept apologizing, because they’re volunteers and it’s just sick and wrong to make a volunteer feel like crap, but I had to tell him we just couldn’t communicate.
And then there was the phone bill…A major thing was made about this phone bill and it ended up the bill was for 60 CENTS. But I digress, I will still leave out all the horrible details (that’s just the tip of the iceberg).
And then there’s the air-conditioner which only operates with a remote which was never included and which I’ve inquired about from Dongja to help me procure for the past THREE MONTHS and she keeps forgetting and now she’s stopped helping me altogether because I brought it up in irritation because she kept asking me if I’ve found the remote yet when I keep telling her I never lost it because I never had it…
Or there’s the principal commenting to my co-teacher in Korean that it’s too bad I can’t speak Korean like Wayne could. Never mind that Wayne had a Korean wife and I can’t possibly measure up to being that white or being able to speak as good as someone married to a Korean.
I ask myself: Is it me? Is it because I’m a failure at learning Korean? Is it because I work too much volunteering with TRACK? Is it because I’ve never worked with any other foreigners or ex-pats and have always been the only foreigner in sight? Is it because I don’t look like a foreigner? But I’m annoying like a foreigner? Is it because I’m older and won’t tolerate being pushed around because I know better? Is it because I live alone? Is being totally without human company just making me crabby? Is it because I’m in the country without resources? Is it because people expect more out of me? Is it because my independence is seen as self-sufficiency? Is it because my poor people skills are universal? Or IS IT KOREA???
I never had these problems in Thailand. I think I got a taste of what it is to be a white person in Korea when I was in Thailand. Everyone there knew instantly I wasn’t Thai. Everyone there went out of their way to be hospitable. People were kind and smiling there. I’ve never had these problems anywhere I’ve traveled, and I’ve always been alone…
Here. Every. Single. Day. It’s one extreme or another. All. In. The. Same. Day.
This morning I was all happy in some nice new clothes that look fantastic and the weather was comfortable and the mountains are so beautiful and then the needle scratches across the vinyl and it’s back to untenable again.
7 thoughts on “Aigo…”
I’d say, yes, you’re definitely spreading yourself too thin. And yes — it would really help if you had more than a passing relationship with a natural-born korean. Them’s the breaks.
Remember: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger…
As hard as this is, learn Korean. You look Korean so there is more expectations and less forgiving. I know this is unfair but it is what it is. I promise you the up side is that you will understand the culture more if you know the language.
I have more than my share of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Seriously. I’ve filled my quota for two lifetimes. Shelter me, someone. Shelter me.
And the truth is I understand enough of this society and this culture. I get what’s good and I get what’s bad and I get that I’m not really welcome here as a fixer/survivor/reminder of how they screwed up. I’m a quick study. I get it.
I merely need survival Korean to get by for the duration, but I can’t do the work that needs to be done and learn survival Korean at the same time. I am not the typical privileged adoptee who gets to study for a year and can call home with an S.O.S. when they can’t deal. And I can’t commit to this place because the people I love are all on another continent.
And that’s the only thing that really matters, you know, is that someone loves you.
I’m gonna go have a nice cry now.
And back to IS IT KOREA???
Not one person speaks to me in Korean. Not one. Ever. Even when asked to. Not one person has bothered to invite me to their home or help foster my experience here. Or show me around. Not one. No, wait, Mrs. Kim. OK. One Korean out of hundreds.
I get this too. But getting it doesn’t make experiencing it any better. It’s an inhospitable attitude that I can’t cotton. I want to leave because every other place I’ve ever been, some of the most desperate, rightfully self-pitying, self-absorbed places in the world, has at the very least shown sympathy and generosity towards its visitors.
Instead of only wanting to exploit them and then wish they would go away.
In other countries, they want to exploit you and they want you to take them with you.
In other countries still, they want to exploit you and they want you to stay. But geez, at least they are embracing you while they do this.
In Korea, they just want to exploit you. You are here for their needs and their wants and your experience in Korea does not matter. Forget about any relationship or bi-cultural understanding. Here’s some money: we’re paying you, now just give us the goods. They really don’t care about other cultures. (not even traveling, they don’t care!) They think they know all they want/need to know.
How are you supposed to learn a language to COMMUNICATE when nobody talks to you?
How are you supposed to form relationships with people who won’t talk to you? Who just really don’t care about anything but their bills and their commute and their obligations and how they can get ahead or staying afloat?
The way to learn Korean in Korea is like Koreans learn English: by paying a lot of money and getting no real opportunities to communicate.
The other way to learn Korean in Korea is to get a girlfriend. Not a boyfriend. A girlfriend. And sleep with them.
And this is next to impossible if you are over 35 and straight and especially if you’re not white and not a male.
It was much easier to study Korean in Seattle where I wasn’t being zapped with an invisible electric fence every other day.
Rant over for now.
“I promise you the up side is that you will understand the culture more if you know the language.”
As another adoptee who repatriated for a semester and who had people tell her “Learn Chinese, it’ll make your life a lot easier!”, I can tell you that learning the would-be native tongue AS AN ADULT is different from growing up IMMERSED in the language, hearing it every minute of every day of every month of every year.
Well, I can just say that this isn’t immersion. I live in an English bubble that I try to pop but no one will let me.
I hear background noise that sounds like Korean, but it’s not directed at me or for my benefit nor is there any point of reference. The only dialogue I experience is in English, and that is maybe one point of contact a day, for maybe two minutes. I am fully dependent on my Korean English co-teachers for discourse, and yet as skilled as they are, they are not conversationalists…
I conduct my classes in English of course, and anything I communicate is translated, which is my only possible exposure to Korean and it comes so fast and furious it is too overwhelming to register.
I mean, Jane has had a horrible time learning Korean after living here five years. We’re just so busy working on TRACK. And she’s been taking classes almost the entire time and even began her stay here as a student. We are trapped in our English roles, her working at the foreign desk of the newspaper she is half surrounded by English as well and prior to that teaching, she was fully surrounded by English.
There is no such thing as real immersion for an adoptee in Korea because we are trapped as English speakers. The francophones have a horrible time finding work because their English isn’t considered native, but they have a much easier time learning Korean because of it. Even the typical Caucasian Native English Teacher in Korea has a horrible time getting people to speak to them in Korea. The presence of an English teacher means a possibility for free practice in free talking, which comes at a premium price and it is considered a waste of an opportunity to speak to us in Korean.
So to be an ethnic Korean who would like to regain their mother tongue, we are pretty much s.o.l. unless we have money and time to prepare for years before entering any social interactions.
“There is no such thing as real immersion for an adoptee in Korea because we are trapped as English speakers.”
Our brains are trapped within the English language.